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One Hot Desert Night

By:Kristi Gold

One Hot Desert Night
Kristi Gold

       One

Sheikh Rayad Rostam had blood on his hands, a bounty on his head and a burden he had carried for years.

Though at times he longed for peace, he had lived on the edge for so  long, he knew no other way. And today, as he stared out the palace  window to the mountains towering over Bajul, the pain in his side  reminding him of his recent face-off with possible death, his  never-ending mission still urged him to continue.

"You cannot return to your duties until you are medically cleared, Rayad."

An order issued by the king, who happened to be his cousin. He despised  any attempts to dictate his choices and a life where family loyalty and  royal decrees prevailed. Battling anger, he chose to keep his attention  focused on the familiar landscape to avoid Rafiq's scrutiny. "I do not  see why I cannot return immediately. I have suffered much worse than  broken ribs and will probably do so again."

"And the next time you could very well sustain wounds that will not heal, particularly if your cover was breached."

That sent him around to face Rafiq as he struggled to suppress his fury  over the reminders of his downfall. A tragic event that had set his  life-long course. "I learned from my mistake many years ago, and since  that time no one has learned my identity. As far as my safety is  concerned, that is a risk I take to fulfill my duty to this country."

Rafiq leaned back in the chair situated behind the massive desk and  streaked a palm over his goatee, seemingly unaffected by the ire in  Rayad's tone. "You go beyond the limits of risk-taking, cousin, as you  continue your futile quest for elusive killers that you will most likely  never find."

Bordered on losing control, he braced his palms on the edge of the desk  and leaned forward. "I will never stop searching until I locate and  punish those responsible."

Rafiq raised a brow. "And if you do not find them?"

He straightened, hands fisted at his sides. "I will die trying."

"And that, Rayad, is exactly what I fear will happen if you do not  reassess your goals. I have accepted that I will never know the true  circumstance behind my mother's death. I have also accepted Rima's death  was no fault of my own."

"My situation is very different, Rafiq. You speak of a possible accident or suicide. I speak of murder."

"Some answers are not meant to be known, but life is meant to be lived.  You should rebuild yours as I have. You should honor your royal heritage  by continuing the legacy with an heir."

A concept that was not feasible in light of the tragedy that remained  foremost on his mind. "Unlike you and your brothers, Rafiq, my duties  prevent me from considering taking a wife and bearing children."

"I am ruler of our country," Rafiq said. "Zain has established a  water-conservation system that will secure Bajul's future. Adan is the  commander of our armed forces. We have all been successful in our  endeavors to bear children and keep our wives satisfied."

Since Rayad's recent arrival at the royal palace, all signs pointed to  that success every night during the evening meal when he had been  subjected to several miniature Mehdis, and Maysa, the king's very  pregnant wife. "I commend you on that achievement, Rafiq. However, I am  personally not interested in attaining domestic tranquility."

Rafiq narrowed his eyes and studied him a lengthy moment. "Are you so  lost in your thirst for revenge that you no longer crave the company of a  woman?"

"I am not celibate, yet there are very few women I trust enough to bed."

"How long has it been since you have been with a woman, Rayad?"

Too long to admit to any other man. "I have been infiltrating several  insurgent encampments for the past eight months, or do you not recall  giving that directive?"

Rafiq released a rough sigh. "Perhaps you should take this opportunity and use it to locate a suitable mate."

He had heard the same suggestions from his parents, as if they expected  him to discard the pain and remorse. Clearly, no one understood that he  only wanted to sate his natural desire, not settle into an ordinary  life. "Even if I consented to wed as you and my father suggest, suitable  brides in Bajul are rare, Rafiq. Most are married or too young."

Rafiq scowled. "Must you make this so difficult? You are free to travel  to another region if necessary. I am certain your father can locate  prospects in Dubai."

In an effort to quell the subject, Rayad returned to the window where he  glimpsed the official armored limousine arriving at the entrance. When  the driver rounded the car and opened the door, a lithe woman exited the  vehicle, the afternoon sun glinting off her long blond hair. Her  clothing was somewhat conservative and nondescript, yet she moved with  the grace of a gazelle. As she removed the sunshades covering her eyes  and glanced up at the window where he now stood, Rayad was struck by her  beauty, and immediately reminded of his unwelcome abstinence.                       
       
           



       

Forcing his gaze away, he regarded Rafiq over one shoulder. "Are you expecting a guest? Specifically a female guest?"

"That is accurate," Rafiq said. "She will be staying here for an indeterminate amount of time."

He thrust his hands in his pockets and slowly began to pace the area. "Is she wed?"

The king presented his best scowl. "No, she is not, but I caution you to stay away from her, Rayad."

He paused midstride and turned toward his suddenly irritable cousin. "Why? Are you interested in bedding her?"

"Of course not," Rafiq said. "If you recall, I have a bride."

He could not resist the urge to bait the king. "This is true, but  perhaps you have decided to reinstate ancient customs and populate a  harem."

Rafiq's venomous look revealed he did not appreciate the conjecture.  "The woman is Adan's sister-in-law. Should you trifle with her, you will  have to answer to him, your commander in chief, as well as Piper, his  wife."

That did not deter Rayad from exploring all possibilities. "Does this woman have a name?"

"Sunny McAdams. She is an international correspondent, and I highly  doubt she would be interested in engaging in a temporary affair with  you, if that is what you are considering. It is my understanding she has  recently dissolved a relationship with a colleague."

What better way to temporarily move past loss than with mutual passion?  Of course, she would have to be willing. He had never taken from a woman  what she refused to give. He never would. "I appreciate your counsel,  cousin," he said as he backed toward the door. "I assure you I will take  your concerns into consideration." And promptly ignore them.

"That would be wise, Rayad, and I suggest..."

Rayad closed the door on the king before he had a chance to finish his  lecture. At the moment, he intended to give the palace guest an  appropriate greeting.

He thrived on the chase, lived for the challenge in all aspects of his  life and at times yearned for a respite from his mission of revenge.  Erotic fantasy was his specialty, sex his second calling. When he set  his sights on a conquest, he ignored all obstacles that stood in the way  of achieving his goal. Yet one goal he had never achieved...

Refusing to relive the regrets, Rayad decided the woman with the golden  hair would be worth his best efforts to know her, if only for a brief  time. If they decided they did not suit each other, so be it. Yet if  they did, then the world was rife with possibilities, including a  journey into pure pleasure...and a brief escape from the sins of his  past.

* * *

Although the mountainous terrain qualified as breathtaking, and the  majestic palace looming before her storybook-worthy, Sunny McAdams  didn't have the presence of mind to appreciate the enchanting scenery.  She sought only solace, a refuge in which to reclaim her courage and  return to the woman she once had been.

A few months ago, she'd come to this obscure Middle Eastern country  called Bajul to visit her beloved fraternal twin sister, Piper, who'd  married a bona-fide Arabian prince. That day, she had been happy with  life, secure in her job as a journalist and comfortably settled into a  casual relationship with a really good guy. Two weeks later, everything  had fallen apart. Now she felt terribly sad and a whole lot alone.  Beaten down, but not broken. No one could ever break her, even those who  had tried.

Yet for some reason, she felt as if someone might be watching her. Then  again, her paranoia had grown by leaps and bounds since the kidnapping.  Lately everyone appeared to be the enemy, from cab drivers to  convenience-store workers.

As much as she hated to admit it, she needed family now, Piper in  particular. Their personality differences had never interfered when it  came to sensing each other's emotional needs. And that connection had  led to her sister's invitation to visit for however long it took for  Sunny to regroup.

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